March 30, 2016
Advocates call for community seat at the table in implementing agreement to reform NJ’s largest municipal police
NEWARK – In a historic development, the U.S. Department of Justice and the City of Newark signed a consent decree that provides an opportunity for unprecedented reform of the Newark Police Department. Newark Communities for Accountable Policing (N-CAP), a Newark-based movement that has demanded changes to the culture and practices of the Newark Police, praised the agreement and called for the community to play a role in holding the department accountable. As part of the consent decree, the Newark Police Department appointed former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey as an independent monitor to oversee reforms.
“As the country reckons with systemic racism and civil rights violations in policing, we as Newarkers hold the power to demonstrate real leadership in combatting violations of civil rights and civil liberties,” said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “This monitor is a mechanism through which we can hold the police department fully accountable and begin to establish trust between the community and law enforcement."
The consent decree is the result of a decades-long effort to bring much-needed reform to the state’s largest municipal police force. In the face of community complaints and advocacy, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2014 issued a report documenting substantial unconstitutional conduct among the Newark Police Department. Community leaders formed (N-CAP) to advocate for reforms and demand greater accountability through the creation of a Civilian Complaint Review Board.
“We don’t expect violations of people’s rights to suddenly disappear, but in Newark, we can make progress toward rooting them out,” said Laquan Thomas of the Ironbound Community Corporation. “Too many of us have been stopped hundreds of times too many just for walking around in our neighborhoods as Black men. We hope all of America can look at Newark and in a few years say that this is what real reform looks like.”
Together with Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Paul Fishman entered into an agreement in federal district court to transform the practices of the Newark Police. These measures will be court-enforced and independently monitored. Some of the remedial measures include:
- New measures and trainings to end unconstitutional and discriminatory stop-and-frisk and arrest practices, excessive use of force, and arrests of Newarkers for exercising First Amendment protected rights
- Community oversight of the NPD, part of which is already set to take place through a city ordinance passed March 16 establishing one of the nation’s strongest police civilian review boards
- A discipline matrix standardizing process and penalties for police misconduct
- Strengthened Internal Affairs procedures
- Enhanced data collection and analysis to ensure fair and just policing practices
- An early warning system to raise red flags of unconstitutional officer behavior and encourage constitutional policing
- Community engagement to strengthen police-community relations
“Newark has the opportunity to show on a national stage what reform of a large urban police department looks like,” said John Smith, a former Newark Police officer, and currently a professor at Essex County College and member of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. “It’s the job of the Newark community members to make our voices heard, and it’s the job of Newark and DOJ officials to take those voices seriously.”
The U.S. DOJ has also appointed a monitor, former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey, to oversee the implementation of the new practices and policies. N-CAP, which has been actively involved in vetting federal monitor applicants, will ask to meet with Peter Harvey within the first month on the job and will continue to push for meaningful engagement with the Newark community during the monitorship.
“The community has played the biggest role in bringing a monitor to Newark, and the community is the key component to making federal intervention successful,” said Ingrid Hill of the People’s Organization for Progress. “After the monitor has come and gone, the changes the monitor makes will remain with the people of Newark. It’s our job to make sure the changes on the horizon instill within the department a sense of accountability to the people officers are tasked with protecting.”
In July 2014, following advocates’ calls for federal intervention, the Department of Justice released a report finding widespread civil rights and civil liberties violations in Newark policing, including unconstitutional and racially discriminatory stop-and-frisk and arrest practices, excessive use of force, punishment of Newarkers exercising their First Amendment rights, quotas, theft by officers, and a dysfunctional internal affairs structure.
“For 50 years the people of Newark have called for federal oversight of Newark policing, and today’s announcement marks a historic moment in that long struggle to build a fair, just and accountable police force,” said Udi Ofer, ACLU-NJ Executive Director. “But now the hard work begins of transforming a police department that has long engaged in widespread constitutional violations. The consent decree entered into today is a crucial next step toward building a police force that upholds civil rights and is accountable to the people of Newark.”
The signing of the federal consent decree represents an enormous milestone for Newarkers and community members, including the members of N-CAP. The call for a monitor has been a key part of N-CAP’s vision, and N-CAP was instrumental in making the process more transparent. Following N-CAP’s advocacy for transparency, the Department of Justice released a list of applicants for the monitor position to the public. Additionally, the Department of Justice has held several community meetings, including one in Trenton Sept. 30, to discuss civil rights issues in policing.
“This community has worked for decades to hold the Newark Police accountable, and today marks one of the biggest strides forward yet,” said Deborah Smith-Gregory, President of the Newark NAACP. “We thank Mayor Baraka, Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, and leaders from the U.S. Department of Justice for their commitment to this process and their hard work in making this first crucial step of police oversight happen.”
Newark Communities for Accountable Policing advocated for a strong Civilian Complaint Review Board, which the Newark Municipal Council passed on March 16, building on Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s 2015 executive order. The review board, together with a monitor, will add much-needed accountability to the Newark Police Department. The nine-member board will have subpoena power, independent investigatory authority, and the ability to audit the department.
“With today’s significant announcement, Newark has an opportunity to serve as a model for law enforcement reform and community-responsive policing throughout New Jersey and the nation. We believe that law enforcement can and must join with the communities they serve to be peacemakers and peacekeepers. Today’s development moves us closer to that reality,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
Newark’s strides toward accountability have been decades in the making, and come amid an ongoing, yet elevated, national conversation about injustices in policing. The abuses of police departments have come to the fore in the past two years, with prominent deaths of people of color, and predominately the deaths of Black men, by police in Ferguson, Mo., Staten Island, N.Y., Baltimore, North Charleston, S.C., and Chicago at the hands of law enforcement officers. These injustices, among others, have propelled the Black Lives Matter movement forward and have increased the demand for public accountability by law enforcement.
“Today, the federal government and the City of Newark firmly demonstrated their recognition of a need for a permanent turn toward policing culture and practices that respect individual rights,” said Jasmine Crenshaw, N-CAP organizer. “The demands for equal rights and justice have often been ignored and suppressed, and the lack of accountability has driven a wedge between communities and police departments. We appreciate the DOJ’s efforts to make this process transparent, and we will stay vigilant to make sure they continue to share information and collaborate with the public throughout this process.”
The Department of Justice under the Obama administration has monitored the police departments of several large cities, with Newark being the latest. Earlier in March, the Department of Justice finalized an agreement with Ferguson, Mo., to overhaul the city’s policing. The Ferguson Police Department came to national attention in August 2014 when police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown.